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A pageant of puppets

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CONSIDERING the lure of a warm and sunny Saturday outside, the steady stream of visitors here at the Children's Museum of Manhattan is surprising. On the other hand, who can resist a subject like puppets, and such a happy m'elange of felt and construction paper, scissors, string, and Elmer's glue? Open since March 20th, ``A Pageant of Puppets'' bills itself as an ``interactive exhibit'' - and it's certainly that. Hands-on workshops guide children in making their own creations (today they're working on lunch bag puppets), and in the main part of this cozy side-street museum is a fabulously colorful exhibit of every variety of puppet imaginable, as well as a bounty of things for children to examine, touch, and play with.

Upstairs in an airy, comfortably cluttered room, the puppet-making workshop is gearing up.

``I want to make a cookie monster,'' says one little boy in a striped shirt and red zipped sweatshirt.

``I need help,'' pipes up a little girl across the table.

``Why don't you start with feathers?'' suggests her mom.

``Here you go, here's two furry eyes,'' says her dad, handing them over.

``I don't want to do this,'' announces another little boy, bouncing up and down on his folding blue chair.

``Well, I want to,'' says his mother. ``I don't know how, either, but they're going to show us.''

Museum volunteers weave down the long tables, giving assistance with the blunt-edged scissors, making suggestions, and praising everyone's efforts.

Meanwhile, downstairs, toddlers with sticky fingers prod the numerous glass cases, peering wide-eyed at the displays. More than 100 puppets from around the world - many of them rare and valuable - have been brought together here by museum director Bette Korman.

On one wall is an antique Indonesian shadow puppet, delicately crafted from pierced leather. Nearby is a cluster of Jim Henson's Muppets. Reunited atop a marionette display are two old friends from ``The Sound of Music'' - the lonely goatherd and his sweetheart, lent by puppeteer Bil Baird. Overhead, huge mechanical butterflies made of pink satin and sequins flap their glittery wings.

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